The past two years have been a challenge for many school communicators. Constantly changing policies related to health and safety. Misinformation fueled by social media. Divisive politics. Budget deficits.
As schools continue to evolve to adjust to the new normal, so will the jobs of K-12 public relations and community engagement professionals.
In 2022, there are 10 key communications trends expected to gain traction as school PR professionals like you continue to pivot to meet the needs of their communities, engage stakeholders, and build trust.
1. Customer Intelligence
With so much at stake and so many involved, managing the communication and the chaos can seem impossible. In 2022, customer intelligence will play a pivotal role in building stronger district brands and informing communications strategies to improve the school experience for all stakeholders.
To help inform effective communications strategies, you will need to leverage customer intelligence — such as predictive data analytics, trending topics, surveys, and focus groups — to better understand the perceptions and needs in your community.
Customer intelligence will also help you manage the influx of day-to-day communications requests — especially for those who serve as an internal PR agency for the district.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
From anticipating a family’s needs through the enrollment process to answering questions 24-7 with a district chatbot, artificial intelligence is already changing the way schools serve their stakeholders.
As school communication departments continue to be under-staffed and under-budgeted, you must find ways to do more with less.
AI will help your district drive efficiencies — giving you and your team more time for complex, nuanced work — and help you manage the influx of inbound communications to meet the high expectations of all stakeholders.
The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer has identified a growing trust gap — driven by the pandemic and misinformation — and trust in social media and owned media (your website, newsletters, etc.) are at record lows.
You’ll need to lead with empathy in 2022 by clearly communicating the facts and courageously addressing fears to restore trust with stakeholders — especially as many topics, such as masks and virtual learning, elicit strong emotions from parents, teachers, and other school community members. Empathy will also be a key practice as you manage crisis communications and rapid response to key issues throughout the year.
Communicators also need to have empathy for themselves. With limited resources, volatile emotions, and high expectations for customer service, missteps are bound to happen. Giving yourself grace as you manage the increased need and desire for communications and the high stakes involved in school PR is important for your mental health and happiness.
Divisive politics. Contentious school board meetings. Upset parents. Bad press. This is the year to collaborate across your district to break down silos, improve communications, and solve frustrations.
Everyone has to work together to deliver a positive experience for every customer at every touchpoint. Collaboration will be critical in 2022, especially as you plan, execute, and measure communications priorities for the board, the superintendent, and the district as a whole.
Start by listening to your community and streamline inbound communications by adopting an omnichannel customer service platform like Let’s Talk. This platform provides a unified inbox that makes it easier for you to listen to community feedback, collaborate across the district to respond quickly to incoming dialogues, and understand the perceptions and experiences of your community.
5. Listening — internally and externally
Sometimes you’re caught off guard by shifting community opinions. Whether you’re going for a high-stakes bond renewal or working through rezoning, listening should be a top priority for 2022. By listening and identifying trending topics, you can prevent surprises and stop misinformation in its tracks.
Give everyone in your district a voice by using Let’s Talk — the only customer experience platform built for K-12 school districts. This will help you build relationships and strengthen trust while supporting enrollment and stable funding.
In a world where Netflix recommends your new favorite show and Amazon anticipates your next purchase, stakeholders are expecting personalization in nearly every experience — including in schools.
Seek to provide relevant information personalized for members of your school community — such as promoting key after-school programs to disadvantaged families or providing content translated into the language a family speaks at home.
Personalization will also be critical for internal communications as you meet employees where they are by using a variety of channels — such as email for teachers or text messages for bus drivers.
7. Employee engagement
In 2021, the media buzzed about the “Great Resignation.” In 2022, reporters continue to discuss concerns of staff shortages across the country.
As teachers continue to choose to leave the profession, you will play a critical role in engaging and retaining school staff — whether it’s by partnering with HR to conduct a survey to understand how teachers feel about working for your district or creating new internal communications strategies to keep employees informed about the latest changes.
8. Equitable communications access
From device access to language barriers, there are many challenges that prevent stakeholders from getting the information, support, and services they need.
Equitable communications access will be a top priority and should be built into strategic plans in 2022 as school districts seek to foster inclusivity and improve service.
Let’s Talk helps school districts with equitable access by providing tools that can translate dialogues in up to 13 languages by default (with additional language options available) and offering Spanish language capabilities with the Let’s Talk Assistant chatbot.
9. A focus on predicting and preventing issues
All it takes is one crisis, one missed at-risk student, or one ransomware attack to change everything.
You can’t report or improve what you don’t measure, and you can’t break the cycle of being reactive without impactful insights. School districts are increasingly using real-time dashboards, predictive analytics, AI, and knowledge bases to aid in decisions that predict and prevent issues.
Use live data and insights from a platform like Let’s Talk to make better decisions, spot trends and needs, reduce student and staff churn, and provide early warnings for issues before they escalate.
10. Superior customer service
Once considered only needed by retailers and restaurants, customer service has become crucial for school districts — especially as options for families expand through school choice programs, charter schools, and virtual schools.
In 2022, stakeholders will be vocal with their feedback — especially if they perceive a lack of responsiveness or inconsistent messaging within their school district.
You can’t create a thriving school culture and climate — inside and out — without clear, open communication and delivering on your promises. Uphold your commitments to communication, engagement, and inclusion; build community connection, confidence, and buy-in; and keep a constant pulse on public feedback and sentiment to ensure you’re providing a superior customer experience districtwide. With stronger connections across the community, your district’s customer experience will thrive.
And if you’re not confident in your district’s customer service skills, schedule professional development to give your frontline staff the coaching and skills they need.